115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mommy, Mammy, Nanny: Epidermalization of Black Bodies and Gendering of Blackness in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s On Monday of Last Week

Soh Yeun (Elloise) Kim, University of Washington

Focusing on Kamara’s multi-faceted status of a Nigerian immigrant, a young wife, and a black nanny in the multicultural and multiracial family, this paper will read how the protagonist in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story “On Monday of Last Week” (2009) is produced as an “invisible, unknowable, yet somehow still there, dark matter.” 


In this paper, I’d like to read the way that Kamara, a nanny working for American family, is produced as a “knowable, locatable, and contained” subject in “On Monday of Last Week” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009). As Kimberlé Crenshaw illuminated in her seminal work, “Mapping the Margins,” Kamara’s position is intersectionally constructed along the highly racializing and gendering line in alliance with her status being a Nigerian immigrant, a black female nanny, and a young wife. Neil hires Nigerian Kamara out of his wish to provide his bi-racial son Josh with a more culturally and racially identifiable upbringing that lacks in his neighborhood. Yet, Neil’s seeing blackness in both his son and the Nigerian nanny does not lead to his understanding of the colossally different ways that their bodies are racialized. A triangulation among a “half-caste” child, a white father, and a black nanny gets more complicated when Josh’s black artist mother Tracy is constantly absent. While Kamara has been hired to furnish Josh with richer racial heritage and cultural diversity, her presence in this family functions to fill the position of the mother and even that of the (non-romantic) wife. And yet, her authority and role are solely determined and restricted by whimsical demands of Neil, a white well-established lawyer who emphasizes his Jewish heritage.

Using Simone Browne’s Dark Matters as a main textto read this short story, this paper will analyze how Kamara is instituted as an “invisible, unknowable, yet somehow still there, dark matter” (Browne 9) in her relationship to and interaction with Josh’s family. I’d like to argue that Kamara is contained and obscured simultaneously. The “power to define what is in or out of place” (Browne 16) comes in quickly when Josh develops his affection for Kamara but Neil clarifies that Kamara is not their family. Neil locates Kamara back to her place as an outsider in every sense. Noting Kamara’s alienation as the dark matter within, this paper will discuss the mass migration of brown, black, and yellow people as gendered and racialized laboring bodies in the era of globalization and multiculturalism in relation to Kamara’s immigration and domestic labor service.